CVIndependent

Mon05272019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Netflix is becoming a haven for the very best directors. Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma will debut on the streaming service on Dec. 14 after a very brief theatrical run. Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Paul Greengrass, Guillermo del Toro and Steven Soderbergh all have had, or will have, projects with Netflix.

The true stunner is that Joel and Ethan Coen also teamed up with Netflix for their latest, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The film is a six-part Western anthology that fits snugly in their repertoire, which includes No Country for Old Men, Fargo, Barton Fink and Raising Arizona. The movie’s arrival on Netflix, after a one-week theatrical run, establishes Netflix as a true original-film force.

The film opens with a story about the title character (played by Tim Blake Nelson), a singing cowboy who is frighteningly adept with his gun, casually killing many in the segment’s few minutes. The musical ending tells us we are in true Coen territory—where weird, beautiful things can happen.

The other shorts involve an unlucky bank robber (James Franco), a sad and greedy show-runner (Liam Neeson), a wily prospector (Tom Waits), an unfortunate cross-country traveler (Zoe Kazan) and a creepy stagecoach. All of the segments are good enough that they could be expanded into stand-alone films, and all of them successfully convey the overall theme—that the old West was a tricky, dark place.

For any Coen fans concerned that this represents anything less than their usual brilliance because it’s a streaming/TV affair: Fret not. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will go down as one of the year’s best movies, as their films often do. It’s also a nice companion piece to their other fine Western, their remake of True Grit.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

If you love all kinds of movies, and you haven’t yet seen The Room, you really need to change that.

Written, directed by and starring the legendary Tommy Wiseau, it’s possibly the greatest bad movie ever made. It’s so great in its badness, the Rifftrax episode (the movie-bashing bastard stepchild of Mystery Science Theater 3000) with the movie is actually annoying. You just want Mike Nelson and friends to shut up and let you enjoy the pure experience of The Room. No riff is funnier than what is happening in the actual movie.

James Franco pays tribute to Tommy Wiseau with The Disaster Artist in much the same way Tim Burton glorified shlockmeister Ed Wood more than 20 years ago. Franco directs and stars as Tommy, complete with the awesome long vampire black hair and chipmunk cheeks that comprise “the Wiseau.” He also nails the Wiseau mystery accent. (While his IMDb profile says he was born in 1955 and comes from Poland, nobody seems to really know Wiseau’s true background.)

For the first time in a movie, Franco co-stars with brother Dave, who gets one of his best roles yet as the legendarily bad Greg Sestero, friend to Tommy and co-star in The Room. The film starts in San Francisco, with Greg struggling to remember lines for Waiting for Godot in a savagely bad acting class. Strange classmate Tommy lumbers onto the stage and butchers a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire—and a friendship is born. The two agree to work on scenes together, bond in their lousiness and, thanks to Wiseau’s strange apparent wealth, move to Los Angeles to fulfill their dreams to become actors.

After a stretch of unsuccessful auditions, the two decide to make their own movie—and this is where the film really takes off. Fans of The Room will rejoice in hilarious recreations of iconic The Room moments such as, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!’ and “Oh, hi Mark!”

The supporting cast includes Franco pal Seth Rogen as cranky script supervisor Sandy; Zac Efron as the actor who portrayed the oddly named Chris-R in The Room; and Ari Graynor as the actress who brought the majestic Lisa, Tommy’s onscreen sweetheart, to life. Josh Hutcherson plays the actor who would be Denny, perhaps the most unintentionally frightening character in Wiseau’s movie. Sharon Stone, Hannibal Buress, Melanie Griffith and Randall Park also appear.

The Disaster Artist is actually based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside ‘The Room,’ the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, co-written by Sestero, and the film is heartwarming for multiple reasons. It’s fun to see a misfit make it, even though it’s in a roundabout sort of way, and it’s fun to see that accomplishment depicted by the Franco brothers. It’s about time these guys did something together. Perhaps it’s the first of many future collaborations.

When Franco’s Wiseau watches the final cut of The Room with a rambunctious crowd that loves/hates his movie, Franco delivers some of the best acting of his career—on multiple levels. On the screen in ‘The Room,’ he’s doing a spot-on impersonation of Wiseau, with an odd accent, bizarre facial expressions and a horrific writhing, naked ass during an exquisitely bad sex scene. In the audience, Wiseau sheds tears as everybody around him mocks his movie. Franco succeeds in making us feel terrible for the guy.

That sadness quickly disappears, replaced by euphoria as the crowd cheers his trash masterpiece—and Wiseau embraces the notoriety. By the time the film wraps, it hits you that Franco has somehow made one of the better “feel good” movies of the year.

Make sure to stay for the credits, where Franco plays his re-creations of scenes from The Room next to Wiseau’s originals. The scenes sync up almost perfectly, and are so good that I often found myself confused regarding which was which. Wiseau himself shows up after the credits for what turns out to be the movie’s best cameo.

The Disaster Artist is now playing at the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940) and the Century La Quinta and XD (46800 Washington St., La Quinta; 760-771-5682).

Published in Reviews

There’s been too much “more of the same” at theaters this summer. Flat big-budget blockbusters and sequels without an ounce of creativity or originality keep being churned out of the Hollywood industrial complex, delivering an astounding amount of expensive, vapid horse shit.

Sausage Party, the animated hellcat from writer-producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is the first big studio film in a long time that is screaming with originality. It’s a profanity-laden, blasphemous middle finger to the movie-making establishment that thinks it’s OK to turn out sequels and comic-book movies that suck—because the studios know people will shell out for them anyway. Sausage Party couldn’t be more fun, and it’s a film like nothing you’ve seen before.

In a sunny supermarket, a bunch of vegetables, hot dogs and buns wake up and sing a happy song, convinced that today will be the day they are chosen by humans to enter the Great Beyond—the world on the other side of those automatic sliding doors.

Frank (the voice of Rogen), an optimistic hot dog with teeth like Seth Rogen, longs for the moment he can leave his packaging and “fill” his sweetheart, a bun named Brenda (Kristen Wiig). That moment seems to be imminent when they are selected and placed in a cart—but things quickly go awry: Frank and Brenda are left behind on the supermarket floor, while their friends soon find out that things in the Great Beyond are far from great.

On top of being super-profane, Sausage Party is incredibly violent, with various food things and condiments suffering unthinkable, heinous fates. (What happens to heads of lettuce and baby carrots is particularly nightmarish.) Rogen and Goldberg have found themselves a little loophole: The main characters aren’t humans or animals, allowing for nonstop carnage within the confines of an R rating.

That loophole also allows for a food orgy that would be too much for your average porno, yet there it is—a bunch of characters openly fornicating in just about every way possible on a big screen playing next door to Finding Dory.

If you’re a parent out there who takes kids to the movies simply based on the poster, you are in for the shock of your life. However, the first word in this movie is actually “shit,” so you should know early on that the wrong entertainment has been chosen for the day.  (Unless, of course, you and your kids are truly twisted, in which case … have at it!)

Other exquisite touches include a main villain that is a total douche … and by total douche, I mean he’s actually a douche, voiced by Nick Kroll. He’s also a leaky douche, so his thing is to suck replenishing juices out of his prey—sometimes in a way that is most provocative.

James Franco is on hand as the voice of a druggie experimenting with bath salts, while Edward Norton voices Sammy Bagel Jr., a bagel who plays a pivotal, perverted part in that food orgy. Rogen/Goldberg mainstays like Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, David Krumholtz and Danny McBride all have roles, and they all contribute to make this the most outrageously insane Hollywood comedy since, well, their own This Is the End (2013).

What makes Sausage Party a cut above your average stoner-movie-full-of-food-items-screwing-and-being-murdered is that it also takes some smart swipes at organized religion and politics. Yes, this movie makes you think—a lot more than you would expect from a movie that features a taco going down on a hotdog bun.

I heard Rogen on The Howard Stern Show saying he thinks Sausage Party could be a franchise ripe for sequels. Just how he thinks he can top this madness is beyond comprehension … but I will certainly be in line to find out when he tries.

Sausage Party is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After sitting on the shelf for quite some time, Mark Osborne’s unorthodox animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic The Little Prince has finally gotten a release—a release streaming on Netflix, that is.

It’s a good-enough movie, but it is by no means a straight retelling of The Little Prince. There’s a modern story about a young girl (the voice of Mackenzie Foy) who befriends an old aviator (Jeff Bridges)—the one we know from The Little Prince. He recounts part of that story to the little girl, which we see in stop-motion animation. (The modern portion of the story is mostly told via CGI.)

There’s an interesting mix of animation techniques to go with some twists in the story. While things feel a little uneven and perhaps slow at times, it’s an enjoyable film.

Other voice performers include Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro and Albert Brooks. It’s great fun hearing all of their voices in one place.

Again, if you are looking for a traditional retelling of The Little Prince, this is not it. If you are looking for decent-enough animated fare that will entertain kids and adults alike, you could do much worse.

The Little Prince is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The once blacklisted The Interview is now available on YouTube, iTunes and Xbox while also playing in a limited amount of theaters (including a whopping three locally: the Camelot, the UltraStar Mary Pickford and the Cinémas Palme d’Or).

Did you ever really doubt you would get a chance to see it? Commerce always wins!

This film by directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, like Team America: World Police 10 years ago, plays like one of those impossibly strange—and undeniably funny—Warner Bros. propaganda cartoons that were in circulation during World War II. You know, the ones where the likes of Bugs Bunny would square off against Hitler. The major exception would be that these newer satirists say “motherfucker” a lot. 

This is touchy stuff, but Rogen and co-star James Franco are up to the task of pissing all over North Korea, the American media and the CIA. They don’t go after these institutions with contemplative, important, intellectual arguments; they attack with stink-dick and shit jokes.

As one should expect from political satire starring Rogen and Franco, The Interview obsesses over things like whether or not Kim Jong-un actually has a butthole. Mind you, the film does address real-world hot topics like nukes and people starving, but mainly, it is concerned about the whole “Kim Jong-un doesn’t have to pee or poo” thing.

Franco plays Dave Skylark, the flamboyant host of an American tabloid interview show who is notorious for stories such as Eminem admitting he’s gay, and Rob Lowe revealing his baldness. When Skylark discovers Kim Jong-un’s favorite TV shows are The Big Bang Theory and his program, he conspires with his producer (Rogen) to procure an interview with the world leader that will establish their legitimacy as real news guys. Their plans get mildly complicated when the CIA gets wind of the interview and insists upon the two killing the notoriously reclusive basketball fan.

Like this year’s Godzilla, The Interview’s monster doesn’t show up until about an hour into the film. Kim Jong-un, hilariously played by Randall Park, is a bashful Skylark fan who loves Katy Perry and margaritas. In what is surely a riff on the infamous Dennis Rodman-Kim Jong-un bromance, Skylark and Kim take an instant liking to each other. They play basketball, blow up parts of the countryside with tanks, and party all night long.

Of course, Jong-un has that bad side we all know about, so Park’s portrayal goes Jekyll-and-Hyde when the Supreme Leader starts threatening to nuke the world if it doesn’t recognize his superior strength. It’s in these moments that the Park performance becomes a tad more blustery.

Rogen is pretty much his usual self here—in other words, he’s one of filmdom’s most underrated comic actors, with impeccable timing and a steady stream of corrective, snarky retorts. Franco goes all-out childish here, with a high-pitched, appropriately sophomoric performance. His running account of a tiger attack on Rogen’s character is one of the film’s great highlights. Lizzy Caplan offers good supporting work as a CIA director who “honeypots” the two into the assassination scheme.

The final interview between Skylark and Jong-un is a comedic stew of tears, bullets, puppies, finger-biting and sharting. Park offers a Katy Perry-induced nervous breakdown for the ages; he should get some sort of award for Best Slow-Motion Death Scene, because what he does in his final moments is beyond epic.

Does the movie live up to all of the hype? I think so, but I am prone to laughter when it comes to good jokes about buttholes and stink-dicks. The Interview a silly, juvenile movie delivered by some goofy, mischievous guys. It is not some sort of patriotic manifesto intelligently taking a stand against North Korea. For that sort of movie, you must look elsewhere. This film is about the political ramifications of a world leader sharting on live TV. 

Published in Reviews

It’s been 10 years since writer-director Paul Haggis, quite surprisingly, won some Oscars for his Crash, a fine but overrated movie. That film had a bunch of storylines woven together, and offered good actors decent showcases. It also seemed to be setting the stage for a promising directorial career.

However, Haggis did not capitalize on his Oscar triumph. Since then, he’s made a very good movie that nobody saw in the U.S. (the Tommy Lee Jones-helmed In the Valley of Elah) and a so-so, tepid thriller (Russell Crowe’s The Next Three Days). Otherwise, he’s generally fallen off the radar.

His latest film, the ambitious Third Person, won’t do much to change that. It’s a respectable but divisive effort that will confound a lot of viewers, much like Cameron Crowe’s complex and unjustly maligned Vanilla Sky did. It tries to do a lot—and it doesn’t always succeed. Some will see Third Person as a train wreck; I see it as a flawed but reputable effort.

What we get is a puzzle movie with Michael (Liam Neeson), a struggling Pulitzer Prize-winning author, as its centerpiece. The once-prolific author can’t get on track with his latest novel as he struggles to produce words in a Paris hotel. His tempestuous lover, Anna (Olivia Wilde), comes to visit. The two have a strange, sadomasochistic relationship that will be explained later on.

Within the story of Michael and Anna, we get connected characters that I won’t reveal, because they are part of the puzzle. The film also gives us two other major plot threads: One involves Adrien Brody as Scott, some sort of fashion spy in Italy, getting involved in bad things with a troubled woman (Moran Atias). This plot thread proves to be the film’s least-interesting, although Brody is quite good. The other thread involves Julia (Mila Kunis), a disgraced former soap-opera star who is being barred from seeing her son. She’s accused of trying to harm him, and Rick (James Franco), the boy’s finger-painting father (yes, he’s a professional finger painter), believes she is guilty.

The locations change, in a somewhat confusing manner, between Paris, New York and Rome, with all of the characters connecting through unexplained misery or loss. The film clocks in at 137 minutes, and it frustrates at times, because it takes its sweet time revealing its ultimate purpose. However, that revelation is clever. I’m not going to say it ties the film together perfectly, but it does result in some clarity and qualifies as a decent twist.

Kunis—an actress who can range from absolutely terrible to pretty damned good—leans toward her better tendencies here. Yes, there are moments when she delivers a line or two as if she has no sense of what is going on. Conversely, she has moments, including her final big scene, in which she is absolutely dynamite.

After her endearing work in Drinking Buddies, Wilde continues to show she’s an actress with exceptional power. Anna is her most complex character yet—alternately mean and vulnerable, while being completely unpredictable.

Neeson proves again that he knows his way around a drama. Michael is seemingly a good man, but he has some ruthless capabilities; Neeson is astute at showing both sides of the coin. Franco, who is in half of the films being released this summer, delivers his most realized, sturdy work in years as a man struggling with his sense of obligation to his child and an unstable former lover.

I think Haggis has yet to deliver his best film; Third Person, while worth seeing, is definitely not it.

Third Person opens Friday, July 11, at the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).

Published in Reviews

Jason Statham and James Franco star in this piece of silliness from the pen of Sylvester Stallone. While I can’t say I liked Homefront, I can say that fans of Statham and Franco won’t be too disappointed, because they do good jobs of presenting the stupid material.

Statham stars as Broker, a former drug-enforcement agent looking for a new life with his young daughter—in a place he obviously should’ve avoided. Franco stars as Gator, a small-time meth dealer looking to go bigger. When Statham’s daughter punches his nephew out on the school playground, Gator decides to get involved, and things go haywire.

Statham is better than usual here, while Franco is actually kind of great as the bad guy. The problem: Stallone’s screenplay is so routine that you can guess the plot points 10 minutes before they happen. Still, it does have Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder as meth-heads, so you could do worse at the movie theaters.

Homefront is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

In Lovelace, Amanda Seyfried does a decent job as the star of the infamous Deep Throat—who had one truly lousy husband in Chuck Traynor (a creepy Peter Sarsgaard).

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have made a film that feels surprisingly short, especially considering that they show the story from two different angles. The movie builds up to Linda Lovelace’s big porn moment—and then re-covers some of the same ground, this time showing Traynor’s brutality.

Since the film is just 92 minutes, not much ground gets covered.

Still, Epstein and Friedman get good performances out of Seyfried and Sarsgaard, with Sharon Stone doing decent work as Lovelace’s angry mother. The film features James Franco in a cameo as Hugh Hefner, with small parts for Bobby Cannavale, Robert Patrick, Chris Noth and Wes Bentley.

Lovelace opens Friday, Aug. 9, at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); and the Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).

Published in Reviews

James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and especially Danny McBride and Michael Cera are going to get crossed off a lot of Christmas-party guest lists this year. After what happens at their party in This Is the End, nobody’s going to want them anywhere near the Chex mix.

Rogen and his writing partner, Evan Goldberg, make a co-directorial debut for the ages with this caustically funny, blood-drenched satire of Hollywood vanity and biblical end times. Nobody is safe in this movie, in which Rogen and a bunch of his film cronies play themselves. They behave rather poorly as apocalyptic hellfire burns the Hollywood Hills, and the devil comes knocking with his huge junk hanging out.

When Baruchel comes to Hollywood to visit Rogen, he is dragged against his will to James Franco’s incredible new house—which Franco has, of course, designed himself—for a blowout party, where Cera is jacked up on coke and slapping Rihanna’s ass. Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and an uninvited Danny McBride are also in attendance, along with nearly everybody else of comedic relevance in today’s movie world.

Baruchel and Rogen go out for smokes and watch helplessly as blue beams of light suck convenience-store patrons into the sky. When they return to the house, the ground opens up, and most of the partygoers meet their demise in gruesome ways. (Poor, perverted Michael Cera gets the nastiest exit.)

Rogen, Franco, Hill, Robinson and Baruchel survive and take inventory of their food and beverages. Matters get worse when an oblivious McBride awakens and eats most of their stuff. Constant infighting and masturbatory practices ensue while the stage is set for Satan’s earthly return.

Not surprisingly, McBride is the biggest jerk of the bunch, echoing his usual movie persona. Hill gets ribbed for thinking he’s too good for everyone else after Moneyball, and Franco is the Renaissance Man who decorates his house with his own, self-created art.

An anarchic spirit is at play with this project. Rogen and Goldberg get their stars to do mighty unsavory things (Cera’s three-way in the bathroom, for instance). Major props go to Emma Watson for taking part in something that has her behaving in a way that would make Hermione puke.

On top of the ample humor, Rogen and Goldberg manage a pretty decent horror show, with decapitations, impalings, burnings and Satan with the aforementioned huge privates. In the future, when you are planning a horror/comedy night at home, this one will go along nicely with Evil Dead 11 and Dead Alive.

The enterprise reminded me of Ghostbusters, a movie that successfully mixed big comedic-star elements with sci-fi and horror. Oh, this is a stoner comedy, too. Hey, Rogen and Franco are in it, so what did you expect?

Some of these guys have been screwing up a bit as of late. Rogen made the wasteful The Guilt Trip with Barbra Streisand; Franco bored me with Oz: The Great and Powerful and Spring Breakers; and both McBride and Franco stunk up movie theaters with Your Highness, a mixed-genre failure to the highest degree.

This Is the End gets them all back on track and re-establishes them as the reigning kings of Hollywood comedy.

This Is the End is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

If you are longing to see Vanessa Hudgens naked in a pool with James Franco doing his best impersonation of Gary Oldman in True Romance, then Spring Breakers just might be the film for you.

If you prefer a movie with a script and a sense of direction, stay far, far away.

I hated this piece of junk. It’s vapid, repetitious, unfunny and downright annoying to watch. It’s a shame: I thought I was in for some fun, considering the cast assembled, and the notion of four college girls going on a crime spree so they can afford a spring break trip.

The film plays out as if Sofia Coppola decided to make a “Girls Gone Wild” video. Director Harmony Korine is shooting for some sort of dreamscape feel, with trance music, people talking slowly, and slow, slow visuals. Given what the characters are actually doing and saying, he achieves something closer to a bad mushroom-induced nightmare.

Candy (Hudgens), Faith (Selena Gomez), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are bored at college, and they’ll do anything for a break. They knock over a chicken restaurant, get some money and head to Florida, where they will wear nothing but bikinis for the remainder of the film.

After a night of snorting cocaine off of boobies, they are arrested and eventually get bailed out by Alien (Franco), an underground rapper with a big grill, lots of guns and a bed covered with money.

I thought Franco’s appearance might take the movie in a fun, gangster direction. Such is not the case, because Korine’s screenplay is virtually nonexistent, and his editing style requires footage and dialogue that repeat again and again. Essentially, you feel stuck in place watching much of this movie. True, Gomez’s Faith does say she wishes one could just press a freeze button and make spring break last forever, so perhaps that’s why Korine went for his repetitive, loopy vibe. Really, I think it’s because he didn’t have enough material for a 90-minute movie.

There are no moments in this film when it feels as if performers actually had to learn some lines. Take, for instance, a scene in which Franco is describing the contents of Alien’s room. It’s like Korine just turned on a camera, told Franco to ramble about the stuff in the room, and called that a take. Yes, many films are full of improv moments, but Spring Breakers feels like one terribly long, extremely unsuccessful improv.

There is one semi-inspired sequence in the film, in which Alien shows off his sensitive side by singing the Britney Spears ballad “Everytime” on an outdoor piano. The moment is accompanied by footage of him and the girls robbing and beating spring breakers in slow motion. It’s almost funny. Sadly, for every moment that is almost good, there are 10 that are not.

Korine has directed features before (Julien Donkey-Boy being one of them). He’s also directed a lot of music videos. This movie stands as his longest, most-pointless music video.

In the hands of a more playful director, there could’ve been a fun movie to be had with Spring Breakers. The basic plotline is ripe for some nasty, cynical satire. Too bad that idea isn’t accompanied by a decent script.

Spring Breakers is playing in theaters across the valley. 

Published in Reviews

Page 1 of 2